CTM Blog

Smart Route Podcast

How to Grow Your Business with Profitable PPC Advertising

by CallTrackingMetrics

Discover three changes you can make for more profitable PPC campaigns and business growth

Listen Time 27 Minutes

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are a proven way to increase profits and grow your business. However, an ineffective PPC ad can mean lost revenue and wasted budget. In this episode of Smart Route, John Horn of StubGroup and CTM’s Strategic Partner Manager, Courtney Tyson, discuss three things that make or break a PPC ad campaign, the impact of consumer privacy on marketing innovation, today’s biggest challenges in ad targeting, and how to maximize digital ad returns in an internet without cookies. 

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Episode Highlights:

  • The pay-per-click (PPC) advertising landscape is always changing. With global pushes for more consumer privacy and the disappearance of third-party cookies within sight, profitable PPC advertising will depend on marketers’ innovation and careful planning. 
  • Many companies waste huge amounts of money on PPC ad campaigns that 
    1. Don’t reach the right target audience
    2. Confuse or misdirect potential customers
    3. Become lost in a sea of competitive keywords
  • Getting the right data, criteria, and ad tracking set up for your PPC ad campaigns can yield near-instant profits and contribute to long-term success
  • John Horn has taught digital marketing strategies and skills to over 90,000 students online. He works for StubGroup, a Google Premier Partner; Google recognizes StubGroup as a best-in-class digital marketing agency that helps its clients get the most out of their marketing budgets while keeping them on the cutting edge of their industries.

Additional Resources:

About John Horn:

John Horn is a Managing Partner at StubGroup, a Premier Google Partner ranked in the top 1% of all Google Partners worldwide. He spends his days working on the cutting edge of digital advertising and equipping the team at StubGroup to provide best in class service to their clients. John has taught digital marketing to 90,000+ students online. He lives in sunny North Texas and loves spending time with his wife and baby boy.

Episode Transcript:


Hello and welcome to the twelfth episode of SmartRoute. I’m your host and Strategic Partnership Manager at CallTrackingMetrics, Courtney Tyson. Today we’re going to be learning more about growing a business with profitable PPC advertising.  Our guest is John Horn, CEO at StubGroup. Thank you for being here with us today, John, we’re very excited to talk with you today. 

John Horn

Courtney. Thank you so much for having me.


So, I’m going to give our listeners a little bit more information about you and your background.

John Spends his days working on the cutting edge of digital advertising and equipping the team at StubGroup to provide best-in-class service to their clients. In fact, StubGroup is a premier Google partner, ranked in the top 1% of all Google Partners worldwide. John has also taught digital marketing to more than 90,000 students online. Talk about having an impact! John and his team at subgroup have had huge success with helping their clients focus on the profitability of their PPC advertising campaigns, their ultimate goal being to drive revenue and legitimate leads. So John to get us started, can you tell us a little bit more about StubGroup and what it is your company does?

John Horn

Absolutely. StubGroup is a digital advertising agency and what we do is work with all kinds of different companies around the world to help them create and manage advertising campaigns across platforms, including Google ads, Facebook ads, and other pay-per-click campaigns. So really, we’re coming on board as the marketing extension of a company’s marketing department to help them with leveraging those channels and figuring out how to extract the most profit from every ad dollar that they’re spending.


Okay, helping them get the most out of their budgets. So, we were very impressed to see that you know you’re a premier Google partner and we were wondering if you could tell our listeners a little bit more about what that means in your industry.

John Horn

Exactly yeah.

John Horn

Yeah, so Google has a kind of multi-step program where they will give different levels of accreditation or credibility to agencies that help businesses manage advertising through Google. They have this program called Google Partners and there are many, many partners out there that are called Google Partners, which means they hit a certain threshold in terms of the amount of ad spend that they manage for clients and best practices.  So they meet things like that and then Google looks and selects a very small percentage of the elite of that class and awards them with this Premier Partner status, which essentially means that we’re part of that cream of the crop. In terms of the ad spend, we manage the best practices and satisfaction of the clients we work with and our ability to help clients stay, like you mentioned earlier, on that cutting edge of what Google is providing in terms of features and strategies that they want to push. And so we’ve been fortunate to have that status since, I think, 2016, which is when we started with that status. It’s been fun to grow along with that program as Google has developed it throughout those years


That’s a super impressive title and again you know we’re really excited to chat with you today. Obviously, you guys have earned that title and you’re really good at what you do.  So let’s talk a little bit more about the pay-per-click industry. It’s constantly evolving, which I’m sure is exciting and keeps you guys on your toes, but I’m sure challenging is as well. What would you say are a couple of the biggest challenges you face today in terms of the pay-per-click industry, and what kind of tools are you using to solve those challenges?

John Horn

One challenge we’re working through today and is going to continue to be something that will be the reality for the rest of the future, particularly these next couple of years as things develop, is how the advertising platforms are changing tracking and how companies such as Apple and browsers, and everyone who is in charge of the entire digital advertising industry, and kind of infrastructure of tracking and cookies and all of that good stuff, and how we’re able to to see the performance that we’re driving for clients, how all that is changing from a technological perspective. 

There’s a massive push right now legislatively from congress and others to limit how people are tracked online through the use of things like cookies (which really have been the backbone of the internet and of the digital advertising industry for quite a while now) and the push there obviously is towards privacy for consumers.  And then there’s also pushes again, like I mentioned, Apple with the changes they’ve made to iOS, the continuing changes they’re pushing out through the Safari browser, and others, including Google as well, who have announced the eventual death of the cookie on Chrome. So agency advertisers are all having to figure out how to prepare for this new reality that’s coming and adapt to the changes that have already taken place, and so that’s a challenge, certainly, but I think also an opportunity because, as with any change in the advertising space, or really any industry, there are going to be some places that figure out how to adapt in some places that don’t. So our goal is to be one of those agencies that figure out how to adapt and how to help our clients master the new realities as they come out and to still be able to be showing the right ads to the right people at the right time and tracking the success of those ads so that we can optimize and continue to spend that money more effectively for them. So I think tracking, and I’m sureCallTrackingMetrics is something I’ve spoken about with you guys before, is top of mind as well as you think through. the technical changes there and how to continue to provide call tracking as browsers and as other companies make changes.


Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge right for I think everyone in marketing, whether you’re on the side of strategy or you’re the client, and I’m sure there’s a challenge to educating your clients about these changes and what it means for them and their strategy and their relationship with their consumers, and even their relationship with you. So how is StubGroup staying on top of all these changes?

John Horn

Yeah, there are a number of ways we’re staying up-to-date with the changes that are coming out and we’re maintaining close communication with our teams at Google. We’re realizing that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, you know, these platforms that rely upon ad dollars obviously have a vested interest in figuring out how to solve these things and so they’re the market leaders in new technology solutions. On the Google side, enhanced conversion tracking is something that they’re pushing out which essentially, not to get too technical, helps with creating first-party data that we can leverage and kind of extrapolate from in a world where cookies are going away.  So we’re working on implementing programs like that for our clients and working with our teams at Google and Facebook to understand how they are responding to these changes, as well as looking at third-party tools and solutions that use other creative technology to continue to track the success of campaigns and be able to unify session data throughout the web in a privacy-forward manner. As you know, I’m a marketer so I have that perspective, but I’m also a consumer and I like my privacy, too, so I understand both sides and I truly believe that we can accomplish tracking in a way that does maintain user privacy to a certain extent, but also still allows users to take advantage of a free internet, which is again built upon advertising and the ad dollars that allow us to consume content and use things like Google and get information at our fingertips without having to pay a dime to google, and so it’s very interesting just to see how how the industry is evolving and how that dance between the government. And the big companies and then advertisers themselves continue to evolve.


I love how you said you’re investing in programs for your clients that can help them continue their education and marketing, which is what StubGroup does for them.  And it sounds like you know your status with Google certainly is beneficial for you, to kind of get all of the insight info as to what’s happening and how to stay on top of changes. I loved to hear you say you know that as a marketer and consumer you understand both sides, and that was a really, really great point to make. Moving on to the next question, you know one of StubGroup’s key goals is to help prevent clients from wasting money on ineffective PPC ads, and you know you’ve got that message all across your website here, loud and clear. 

Could you name a few things that StubGroup does to help its clients maximize their ad spend and start seeing profitable ad campaigns?

John Horn

Absolutely! I love finding and cutting waste. It is such a satisfying feeling to be able to go to a client and say, “So look at all this money you’re spending, and here’s how we can stop spending that money, and your bottom line is only going to go up. It’s not going to impact revenue.”

So we often have that conversation when new businesses, new clients, or potential clients reach out to us and they have us do an evaluation of the existing advertising that they’re running, and so we dig into all kinds of things. But really, we’re looking for what is the strategy that they are taking一 if they have a strategy. And how are they implementing that strategy? So we’re digging into the nitty-gritty. Let’s take Google, for example, because it’s a great one to give as an example. What we’ll often find when we dig into a prospective client’s Google Ads account is that they are spending all kinds of money on traffic that’s just not relevant to them, so we’re looking at, for example, the search terms reports to see exactly what people are typing into Google before they click ads. 

One example of this I love to give is we had a client who is a tree service provider. They come out to trim trees, chop down trees and that kind of thing, and when we looked at their account that was being run by a previous agency and looked at their search terms report, one of their top search terms was Dollar Tree because they were bidding on just broad terms related to trees. So they were wasting a bunch of money for people who are looking for the local Dollar Tree, so that’s just one example. Like, let’s not spend money on people looking for Dollar Tree, and then we extrapolate that across all the different aspects, audiences’ search terms, etc.

But you also have just a more strategic perspective. We’ll work with clients to understand what differentiates them from the competition because digital marketing is a very saturated market. These aren’t the days of ten years ago when you could spend ¢5 per click on Google and get all kinds of traffic coming in. Google Advertising works well and a lot of people use it and so sometimes there might be a category of traffic that a client is looking to go after and spending a lot of money on, and it’s just not profitable for them because the cost per clicks are too high and there are too many competitors who are bidding that up. In theory, it’s relevant traffic. But when we dig into the conversion data on their website and show them here’s your cost per lead, here’s your cost per order, it’s just not being profitable, and so then it’s a measure of working with them to figure out what are other categories of traffic we could go after. Or maybe they have a differentiator that puts them either in a place where there’s less competition, or puts them in a place where they have a higher chance of converting a lead or an order than other competitors, because whether they have a price advantage or a credibility advantage or something along those lines. 

So we have a lot of those types of conversations with clients and a lot of that goes back to that tracking aspect. I can’t emphasize enough how important enough it is to track what is happening on your website and in your business with the people who are clicking through your ads, which is costing you money, and this is one of the reasons why we love CallTrackingMetrics and I’ve worked with you guys for so long is because you help us close that gap on the phone call side of things to know exactly where the calls came from and who clicked our ads and here’s the business that you generated from those calls. 

When we work with clients to identify that conversion data and then track that back to the advertising campaigns we’re able to identify those areas of waste and see that a campaign is not helping your bottom line. We can then tell them, “Let’s not spend money here” and “Maybe let’s reallocate that to this other campaign or these other keywords, where you actually have an awesome profit and there’s room to grow.”  So those are just some of the ways. Absolutely.


Thanks for the shout out, we appreciate it! I love to hear just how customer-focused StubGroup is. So you had mentioned that you’re really digging into their previous strategy. What worked to trim the fat, right? But then you’re also investing in learning more about them, what differentiates them from their competitors, for example, and focusing on those aspects of their business to drive their business. 

Thirdly, you had mentioned tracking what’s happening across your website and just really understanding who’s coming to your website and why it has a huge impact on the strategy that you’re creating. You had talked about the tree company as an example of growth and that was great, but could you share another example of a client who saw success after working on their PPC ads with StubGroup?

John Horn

Yeah, so there are lots of options to choose from, but the one that I like to talk about is a client we’ve worked with for a number of years. At this point they’re called Dive Right In Scuba. 

There are a couple of locations in Chicago, and then they have a very robust e-commerce presence where they sell scuba gear to divers all over the world. We’ve been working with them for a number of years and in 2020  we ran some tests to see what the actual profitability is from the different campaigns we’re running, not just top-line revenue and not just initial sales, cost per sale, and so forth, but looking and working with them and understanding their actual margins and how different products or different product lines are profitable in different ways for them, and then adjusting our advertising based upon those realities. 

In Q4 of 2020,  just as an example, we saw year over year that we were able to increase their profitability by close to 1400%! And we didn’t do that just by spending a bunch more money, we actually cut their ad spend during that time frame by 30% and saw about a 17 % increase in revenue. And we’re able to do that by again finding those inefficiencies, finding things where yeah, technically the traffic might be relevant to their website, but it’s not turning into orders so we shouldn’t be spending money on that. I like that example because you know good PPC is not always just about spending more money. It’s about how can we be most efficient with that money.

And that’s truly our goal with our clients: If we can help them generate more profit by spending more money, then absolutely, we’ll do that. But if we can find ways to save them money and increase their profit by being more efficient with their ad spend, well, then that’s also absolutely what we want them to do. Ultimately, what they’re paying us to do is be the stewards of their ad spend.


I love that and that was a really wonderful story. Congrats to you guys on that success! You know, I think we certainly have the same idea here at CallTrackingMetrics. You know our co-founders built our platform to help marketers ensure they’re spending their ad budgets in the right places.

You know how you said PPC is all about kind of understanding who’s coming to the website and when? I’d like to talk a little more about the features of a successful PPC ad. If you had to pick 3 top features of a successful PPC ad, what would those be?

John Horn

So three top features of a good PPC ad, well…first of all I would say targeting. Your targeting has to be correct because you could have the best ad in the world,  but if you’re showing it to the wrong people or at the wrong time then it’s worthless, so making sure that the targeting in your campaign, who you’re selecting to show the ad to and when, and then making sure that the messaging of that ad is as relevant as possible to those people; I think that, first of all, is key. 

Second of all, in terms of the actual creative of the ad itself again, you want it to be relevant to what someone is looking for. So typically, if we’re talking about an ad on the search side of things, let’s say Google search, you’re usually going to want to be leveraging some of the phrases or keywords in your ad that people might be searching for, which is going to help them show that your ad is relevant to them and also help the system itself, Google, know that your ad copy is relevant to them and the ad that you have is something that is relevant to a person searching. You have to make sure you actually even get that ad to serve your client, to begin with, so making sure it’s relevant and making sure that the way you structure the ad is specific is important. 

Typically we see that more specific ads, using specific numbers, specific pricing, and very specific value propositions in the ad copy itself tend to be more compelling and are going to have a higher click-through rate and better conversion rate, because people are seeing not just a broad “blah blah,” but “here’s specifically why I should click this ad because this company has this thing that I am looking for.” 

Lastly, I would say you need to be very specific in your call to action. Every ad that you run should have an objective. And that objective is going to be very different for different companies and different campaigns within those companies. It could be anything from, “I want someone to read this article because I am trying to create the perception of thought leadership in this space” to “I want someone to fill out a form,” “I want someone to place a purchase on my website,” “I want someone to pick up the phone and call me,” all kinds of different objectives, but in your ad tell them what you want them to do. Is it “Learn more,” is it “Buy now,”  is it “Request a quote?” And then, most importantly, follow up on that call to action and that messaging on the landing page. I think a lot of companies have this disconnect between the ad that they run and the place on the website they send them to.

Companies put a ton of effort into fantastic ad and targeting, etc. and then they plop a person on their homepage and expect a person to navigate through their website to find what it is they’re looking for and people just don’t have time for that and they’re not interested in that, and that “back” button is very appealing. 

You need to align the ad copy with the messaging on the landing page and the call to action on the landing page in order to maximize the effectiveness of that ad.


All great points! So the three main features John had mentioned for a successful PPC ad are targeting, relevancy, the call to action, and making sure that you understand the objective of your ad and how to achieve it. That was all super helpful information, John, and really great takeaways for our listeners. So, last question here for you: You know you talked a lot about how the industry is changing with the disappearance of third-party cookies. What are some key things companies should be doing today to prepare for these changes?

John Horn

Well I think one key thing is recognizing that a lot of the big advertising platforms have been on for a while but they are continuing to really make a push towards machine learning and towards automation of various aspects of the marketing campaigns that we run. 

There are a lot of different reasons for that and the cookieless future is an aspect of that because there are ways that you can leverage machine learning to say extrapolate and say, even if we don’t have exact conversion tracking for this, we can track this segment of data and then extrapolate that across all the data we have to work with and make educated guesses based upon that machine learning about how different things are performing, and report upon that to clients. 

So that’s one area where, as an agency, we are leaning heavily into continuing to test and learn the automation strategies that are available to us, and when I say test that’s very important. You can’t just say, “ Oh, yup, automation is the answer to everything. We’ll trust Google or will trust Facebook with all of our money and just off to the races and view it as a magic bullet that doesn’t work.”  Automation is only good as the inputs and the criteria that it’s given and this is something that I spoke about quite a bit recently. I had the opportunity to interview Frederick Vallais, who is the CEO of Optimizer and who just came out with a book, which I think came out in January of 2022. This book is about how the PPC world needs to shift its mindset and how agencies and advertisers need to recognize automation as a tool that they’re going to have to use in order to stay at the cutting edge of performance, but also not trusting it too much. They need to understand how to layer in the manual inputs of strategy, knowing where to send the automation, how to set it up, and creative, of course, and the actual content of the ads and advertising that we’re putting out there. 

Also, monitoring the results is important, and seeing whether or not the automation is performing well because if you have automation with wrong data inputs and wrong criteria it’s really good at exponentially wasting ad spend because it’s really good at just taking what you say and running with it and scaling that. I’ve seen that happen for many clients, which is why we have to be very cautious with how we approach it, but at the same time if you are giving it great data and great inputs, the system is very good at learning patterns and scaling that in ways beyond what a human can do.  And in decision-making power beyond what us mere mortals can do in a workday. So we’re spending a lot of time as an agency figuring those things out and helping our clients implement those types of strategies across their campaigns.


This is this was really great, John. I think our listeners have a variety of takeaways from today’s conversation. You talked a lot about the challenges, the disappearance of third-party cookies and how to educate your customers or clients on what’s going on with that industry, to ensure you’re testing different strategies and tools and not always relying on Google, but also staying on top of the results that you’re getting and adjusting your strategy accordingly. 

You talked a lot about the success of StubGroup, right? And how your team really takes the time to learn about your customers. You know you’re investing in your customers and their businesses to learn more about who they are and to really dissect their strategy and understand what’s working, what’s not, getting to know them in order to help differentiate them from the competition and then educating them too. Also, you talked about what’s happening more broadly across PPC and you talked a lot about how to create successful PPC ads and kind of what goes into that. This was just super educational and we really appreciate the time that you took out of your day to talk about this with us. It’s really great, because you know, of course, that everyone wants to be profitable and save money and spend wisely. 

You’re always the good guy it seems, John, helping everyone save money and spend it wisely. I love that!

John Horn

Absolutely, that is a goal!


Before we conclude, is there anything that you’d like to plug?

John Horn

I would say to anyone listening to this, if you’re a business owner and marketing for your business and you’re interested in just getting a free consult with us about the marketing and advertising you guys are doing, check in with us and see if there are ways that StubGroup could potentially come alongside you and help you improve your performance, just go to our website and you’ll see all the information there to reach out. We would love to have that conversation and see how we can help.


That’s great and thanks to you for sharing your stories of success as well. We very much appreciate that and we wish you and StubGroup continued success. Also, on behalf of CTM, I just want to thank you for your partnership as well. We very much appreciate the opportunity to highlight your expertise. 

So thank you John and thank you to our listeners as well for your support. You can keep in touch with us on Twitter at SmartRoutePod, and also be sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you can be the first to know when our next episode drops. We’ll talk to you soon.

John Horn

Absolutely thank you so much Courtney.


Thank you, John!